First Session of experiments in the Biolab with botanist Thomas Speck and microbiologist Tanja Oberwinkler

Thursday 13.2. - Friday 14.2.2014
Vordere Zollamtsstrasse 3, University of Applied Arts, 1010 Vienna, Austria



Review of first Biolab Workshop 



Our "Build Your Own Bioreactor Workshop" with Angelo Vermeulen started off with a big shopping tour. First, we needed algae: either Spirulina or Chlorella. The latter we got from the befriended artist Thomas Feuerstein. He breeds algae in lovely bottles of TAIGA vodka at home. He also has been using algae in his art works 'Planet Paradies' and 'Manna Machine'. It seems that these days algae have become a perquisite in artistic practice and they are more easy to be obtained in the artist's studio than in the biologist's lab.

For a bioreactor, we, of course, needed stuff from the aquarium shop. Aeration pumps, tubing and stones, and a small aquarium. Growth also needs light, so all kinds of fluorescent lights were carried to the Greg Lynn studio at the University of Applied Arts, mostly equipment each of us had horded at home. LEDs and traditional light bulbs are equally valuable if you want to recreate our bioreactor workshop.

It is truly great fun to venture through thrift stores to get the odd bits and pieces you will need; metal baskets, or other frames one can fix the aeration or water tubes to and which can be built up into towers, racks and sculptural forms where the algae containers and the pumps can be mounted. Fixing is easily done with cable ties, duck tape or any other fastening elements such as clamps. To be able to assemble everything you need simple DIY tools.

In only two days of our workshop we created a bioreactor sculpture with the items mentioned above and even tried out to expose a thin layer of algae to a standing sound wave to see if and how it reacts. As it happens with probably most of first-time experiments it did not go that well. We could not see anything in particular let alone a wave or two on the algae but speculated a lot on the reflection of the artificial light in the algae-watered aquarium; if this was the wave or not. It was late in the day so this fact did not contribute to any kind of findings, either … I guess next time we will get closer to our aim. The idea to bring the bio-reactor parts into a closed loop emerged and we thought about sourcing energy for the light from solar panels.

With this workshop we inaugurated our Biolab and we are now transferring all our hardware and the bio-reactor equipment from the studio Lynn into our laboratory space. We revisited our QFD approach to decide which experiments we will be running. The QFD helps us to chose experiments of identified biological role models which are linked to selected growth principles and our architectural targets. With Julian Vincent we altered our selection of role models and experiments and with Angelo Vermeulen we decided in experimenting with mycelium and slime moulds (both on our QFD list) at the next workshop.


So stay tuned for new updates on GrAB - growingasbuilding!


by Barbara Imhof, Dec. 2013

PS: BTW plants like red and blue.
PPS: Plants don't like green because they are
*full of the light-absorbing chemical known as chlorophyll. They appear green but actually bounce back green and yellow light waves (


Biornametics and GrAB - Growing As Building presented in the artistic research exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts Vienna

Exhibtion 29.11. 2013 - 5.1.2014

Museum of applied Arts, Vienna, Stubenring, 1010 Vienna


GrAB - Growing As Building

is the follow-up project of Biornametics. The aim is to take dynamics and growth patterns from nature and apply them to architecture with the goal of creating a new living architecture. The results of the first workshop Visions for Architecture, Which Grows will be presented in the exhibition. The research team calls their strategy Design by Scientific Research, an approach that enables scientific know-ledge to be employed as departure points for the design process and thereby generates potentials for novel product developments.



The project Biornametics investigates new ways of incor- porating scientific knowledge and creative production methods into architecture. The installation on display in the exhibition, in which architectural concepts are defined by patterns from nature, is representative of the work in this project. The biological principle of stimulus-response is portrayed in select zones of the installation where artificial leaves interact with the visitors.

Photo © Peter Kainz
— at Out of the Box. 10 Fragen an künstlerische Forschung.

GrAB focus

GrAB focuses on dynamic growing architecture that can adapt to its environment and to the needs of its users through constant evolution.

Similar to the previous project “Biornametics”, biological developmental systems undergo a transfer process to architecture and art. Methods from biomimetics are employed, performing strategic work with role models from nature. In particular, specific biological growth principles are investigated in detail.

On the basis of concrete requirements and tasks, possibilities are sought to implement architectural solutions supported by growth principles from biology


GrAB targets
Imagine a house that grows through biological and technological processes
- a house that finds its site through self-organisation
- a house that can be used while it is growing
- a house that is able to adapt to the climate
- a house that continues to grow when more space or a stronger structure are needed
- a house that doesn’t produce any waste
- a house that can decompose itself once it has reached the end of its life cycle.


GrAB team
explores this idea through an interdisciplinary team involving the fields of architecture, biology, art, mechatronics, and robotics


GrAB biolab
A biolab serves as an experimentation platform where work is carried out with organisms and technologies on a laboratory scale. The principles identified there are translated into exemplary architectural concepts.


Summary Waltraut Hoheneder

For millions of years nature has been developing strategies for wound-healing, growth, deployment, and self-organization. From this we can assume that intelligent, efficient and smart strategies must have evolved from this.  We are interested in looking at nature and its potential models in which to emulate. There have been successful examples exercising this transfer of principle from the natural to the human-made, including the Lotus effect, Mercedes-Benz Bionic and the Fin Ray Effect. More recent examples include CNSILK by the Mediated Matters Group at MIT, co-lead by Neri Oxman, known for his construction of woven habitats inspired by silkworm cocoons and Achim Menges and his group's study on the pine cone as an example for responsive and adaptive material systems for facades.

Nature does not create a blueprint ('bauplan') or an image of the outcome contrary to our technologized world. In this realm we first think up ideas then convert them to detailed drawings and working steps. Only later can we start implementing them. Nature starts its process without premeditation. We look to create a symbiosis between these two domains. Let us imagine: we start to grow a house as we build it. We design the process, but do not know the final outcome. The building shapes and adapts to the environment as it grows. It self-organizes itself when inhabitants move in to co-inhabit the structure. The house's basic physiognomy will stay the same, but the façade potentially adapts to environmental alterations. Through natures' unpredictable dispersal of air, water and light, the building can be continuously rendered anew.

We can also consider this vision in light of how 'material' is created in both the realm of nature and human production. Nature creates material within the environment it is subject.  Conversely, human production of material generally requires a large quantity of energy and heat. Even recycling processes involve great demands on resources and temperature. It is a wonder that we can ever consider our production efforts to be intelligent and/or sustainable. We search for another way to produce material goods.

We believe that we can learn and abstract good design from nature in order to create more economic, more ecological and inspiring buildings. We look for emerging technologies and natural systems that will aid us in discovery.

We venture out to research, 'Growing As Building.'


Barbara Imhof, 3. August 2013


*a definition for Biomimetics from the Centre of Biomimetics in Reading, UK


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